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August 2018, Vol. 20, No. 4

Tom Van Vleck on the Multics operating system, security decisions

Tom Van Vleck is a computer security pioneer who spent years developing computer operating system architectures before there were PCs. While earning his bachelor of science in mathematics at MIT, he worked as a programmer for Project MAC, an MIT initiative funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency. Project MAC involved numerous efforts, including the creation of the Multics operating system for a modified General Electric mainframe. Built around time sharing, the multiplexed information and computing service was conceptualized as a utility to provide an interactive environment for multiple users. It was developed in collaboration with Bell Telephone Laboratories (now Nokia Bell Labs) and GE. The system was designed with security built in, according to proponents, and several concepts are relevant to today's operating systems. Bell Labs exited the project in 1969, and some of its former Multics programmers went on to create the Unix time-sharing system. In addition to his work as an undergraduate, Van Vleck spent nine years...

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